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Home >> Life
UPDATED: 08:52, March 01, 2006
'Ordinary' Howard marks decade at top
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Australian Prime Minister John Howard celebrates a decade in power tomorrow as the nation's most popular leader, with voters in no mood to dislodge him from office.

Voters consider Howard to have done a better job than his four predecessors going back 34 years, a poll published yesterday showed.

The Newspoll in the Australian newspaper found 64 per cent of those polled believed Howard had done a good job as prime minister, while the man he defeated to win the job in 1996, Paul Keating, earned 41 per cent approval.

The poll also gave Howard higher ratings than former prime ministers Bob Hawke, Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam.

Despite such massive public approval, the festivities, however, will be low key, in line with Howard's image as a humble and ordinary man who shuns the trappings of success and loves nothing more than relaxing with his family and watching cricket.

"The key to Howard's appeal lies in his very lack of charisma. His appearance of ordinariness is perhaps his greatest political asset," social commentator Hugh Mackay wrote in the Age newspaper.

In October 2004, Howard, a former failed leader who once derided himself as "Lazarus with a triple bypass," won his fourth straight election and the most powerful mandate in a generation.

Now 66, he is only the second prime minister to notch up 10 years in office. His political hero Robert Menzies, the founder of the ruling Liberal Party, served more than 18 years as prime minister before retiring in 1966.

Howard was swept to power on March 2, 1996, ending 13 years of rule by the centre-left Labor Party, on a promise to revitalise the economy and make Australia more "relaxed and comfortable" about its place in the world.

A decade on, the nation's 25th prime minister has now won four elections in a row. Opinion polls show Howard continues to attract strong voter support.

Howard was born in Sydney on July 26, 1939, the fourth son of Mona and Lyall, who ran a gas station. He joined the Young Liberal Movement when he was 18 and studied law at Sydney University.

He married Janette Parker, a teacher, on April 4, 1971. They have a daughter, Melanie, and two sons, Timothy and Richard. Howard is a keen follower of sport, particularly cricket, and enjoys playing tennis and golf.

Rise to power

Howard won a seat in parliament in 1974 to represent Bennelong in the northwestern suburbs of Sydney. Named treasurer (chief finance minister) in 1977, he held the post until Malcolm Fraser's government lost to Bob Hawke's Labor Party in 1983.

Howard became Liberal leader in 1985. He lost the 1987 election to Hawke and was ousted as opposition leader in 1989.

Unanimously elected party leader again in 1995, he went on to beat Paul Keating's Labor government at the March 2, 1996, election to become Australia's 25th prime minister.

He won further terms in 1998, 2001 and 2004 and is now the nation's second-longest-serving leader behind Menzies.

Howard rose to power with a strong focus on domestic issues but little experience or apparent interest in foreign policy. But foreign policy and defence now dominate his agenda.

The Age newspaper describes Howard as "the expeditionary prime minister" who has sent Australian troops to conflicts in East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Australia spearheaded a United Nations-mandated intervention force to restore order in East Timor in 1999, after the former Indonesian territory voted to break away from Jakarta.

Howard has also implemented a more interventionist policy in the South Pacific, sending police and troops to neighbouring Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

A close friend of US President George W. Bush, Howard was among the first to commit troops to the Iraq war in 2003 and the campaign to oust the Taliban from Afghanistan in 2001. Australia still has troops in both countries.

Howard cites his greatest achievements as Australia's economic strength and self-confidence. The Bali bombings, which killed 88 Australians on the Indonesian holiday island in 2002, were his worst moment.

The strong support in the polls gives Howard the rare chance to choose the timing of his departure from the top job. Apart from Menzies, all other prime ministers have been either dumped by their party, dumped by voters, or died in office.

A poll published in Sydney's Daily Telegraph newspaper on Monday found more than half of those questioned want Howard to stay on as prime minister.

Howard is showing no signs of wanting to retire.

"I still have enormous enthusiasm, almost boyishly so for the job," he told one radio interviewer.

Source: China Daily

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